Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why I voted 'No' on Sun Valley’s budget

Joan Lamb is a member of the Sun Valley City Council

By Joan Lamb

Dear taxpayers of Sun Valley:

I cannot support the city of Sun Valley's tentative 2009 budget, recently approved by Mayor Willich and Councilmen Ribi and Briscoe and slated for final approval on Aug. 21, as being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Sun Valley for the following reasons: It proposes an increase in city staff salaries and benefits of a quarter of a million dollars, an 11.4 percent year-over-year increase, when total revenues are projected to decline by over $400,000. This is on top of an increase of 30 percent, or close to three-quarters of a million dollars, in city operational costs in the prior three years. I believe our first priority should be taking care of our excellent and hard-working existing staff, ensuring that their jobs are secure, rather than funding new positions.

The budget eradicates an over half-a-million-dollar operating surplus in 2008 (three-quarters of a million dollars surplus in 2007), and without increases in revenues from a more robust economy puts the city on a trajectory for operating budget deficits in 2010 and beyond. Total city property tax revenues are capped at a maximum growth of 3 percent per year regardless of the increase in assessed value.

The budget shows minimal increase in user fees and has the taxpayers continuing to subsidize new development and code enforcement, costs that should be borne by those increasing the value of their property. It cuts spending on recreation services and on community and cultural events, which benefit residents and encourage tourism, by 52 percent, from $125,000 to $60,000 (to less than 1 percent of the overall budget). It cuts bus service in Sun Valley by not funding two fuel-efficient small buses that would retain current service levels as well as provide additional capacity from down valley for Sun Valley Co. and other north valley employees. Instead of purchasing the two buses, the city will repave a tertiary street serving five houses that has been maintained in reasonable condition and would otherwise be repaved in 2010 when the city reissues its infrastructure bonds.

The budget cuts marketing support for Sun Valley Co. and the city's business owners and landlords by over 11 percent and is a 14 percent decrease from 2007 levels. It restricts the city's bond-funding capacity and timing options for a necessary renewal of its long-term road and infrastructure bonds.

It decimates the reserves created by prior councils since the mid-1990s in the city's capital-improvement, land-acquisition, fixed-asset-replacement, street and general funds. These reserves have been set aside over a period of many years to build a street-maintenance facility, a new fire station, housing for firemen on call and for replacing street maintenance equipment and fire apparatus.

Without a significant increase in construction activity and LOT spending, this budget sets the city up for further cuts in 2010 in the areas it has traditionally funded with its LOT revenues: transit, recreation and tourism support services. I want the public to know that this tentative budget contains none of the requests or suggestions that I made during well over a dozen hours of public budget meetings. In addition, I objected to and do not support the mayor's unwillingness to allow public comment on the budget during the public comment period of the public budget meeting held July 29. I encourage your comments and opinions and your attendance at the public meeting to adopt the final budget on Thursday, Aug. 21, at 4 p.m. at Sun Valley City Hall.

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